THE ceremonies at the weekend for the 60th anniversary of VJ Day, the end of the war against Japan, were once again marked by regret and some anger in many quarters that the Japanese government seems unable to make a definitive apology for its militaristic policies in the 1930s and 40s or for the atrocities it committed against countless people during those decades. At a ceremony in Tokyo the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, spoke of his country's “deep reflections and heartfelt apology” for its actions. He also said, “We will not forget the terrible lessons of the war, and will contribute to world peace and prosperity.” In judging these rather stiff and somehow reserved statements one has to make allowance for the formality with which similar expressions are made in a purely Japanese context, and also for the vagaries of translation. For instance, did he use hansei meaning deep remorse, or shazai meaning an unqualified apology? Even so, when one looks at a map of Japanese conquests from Taiwan in 1895 to Korea in 1910, Manchuria in 1931, and in British, Dutch and French colonies in the 1940, one is entitled to think that the Japanese have quite a lot to apologise for. In China and South Korea, especially, appalling treatment was inflicted on the local populations, in many cases a forerunner of what would be experienced by prisoners of war of the Japanese in the 1940s. There is, however, truth in Mr Koizumi's claim that Japan will not forget the terrible lessons of war. In many ways Japan today is a model democracy and its people are almost obsessively committed to peace and co-existence. Yet still worries persist. Only two weeks ago a Tokyo education board approved the use in its local schools of a nationalist textbook which refers to the Nanking massacre in which half-a-million Chinese died as an “incident” and claims that the occupation of other countries in South-East Asia was to liberate them from oppressive Western colonists. This “textbook” incident recurs with irritating frequency and although its importance may be exaggerated it is an example of how even small things can cause suspicion and distrust even after sixty years.


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